Twenty-four hours after a letter he wrote to President Muhammadu Buhari was made public, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, on Wednesday joined his colleagues for the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Our correspondents, however, learnt that the issue did not come up at the meeting presided over by the President.
“The minister was at the FEC meeting and the President presided. The issue did not come up at the meeting at all,” a source at the meeting said.
When asked the action Buhari had taken on the issue since the letter was dated August 30, 2017, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, insisted that he had no comment on the issue.
Another source however told our correspondent that nobody was sure yet if the President indeed got Kachikwu’s letter before its content became public knowledge.
“Nobody is sure yet if the President indeed got the letter. Who knows whether those who blocked the minister from seeing the President even blocked the letter from getting to him,” the source added.
Senate probes allegations against Baru
Meanwhile, the Senate on Wednesday began an investigation into allegations of corruption against the NNPC Trading Limited, a subsidiary of the national oil firm, which was accused of awarding a questionable petroleum importation contract.
The lawmakers are also probing the allegations of insubordination and unapproved award of $25bn contracts against the Group Managing Director, NNPC, Dr. Maikanti Baru, by Kachikwu.
The move by the Senate followed the adoption of a motion moved at the plenary by Senator Samuel Anyanwu and titled, ‘Allegation of corruption against NNPC Trading: Time to conduct a holistic investigation’.
The lawmakers also adopted another prayer of the motion, which called for a probe of the allegations against Baru in a petition to the President by the minister.
Kachikwu had written to Buhari alleging acts of insubordination and humiliation by Baru.
In the letter titled, ‘Re: Matters of insubordination and lack of adherence to due process by the GMD NNPC – Dr. Baru,’ Kachikwu alleged that the NNPC boss had repeatedly sidelined and disrespected the board of the national oil firm, which is chaired by the minister, among other alleged misdemeanours.
Moving the motion, Anyanwu said the Senate was aware that NNPC Trading Limited was a joint venture creation of the NNPC and Duke Oil, Hyson/Carlson (JV), NAP Oil (JV) and West Africa-Gas Limited (JV).
According to the lawmaker, Duke Oil was incorporated in 1989 in Panama and does not pay tax in Nigeria.
The lawmaker said, “The Senate is further aware that Duke Oil, compared to other major players in the sector, is still grappling with the basics of what it was registered to do in spite of massive support from the NNPC owing to large-scale corruption.
“We are aware of the decision by the current GMD to allocate almost all products to Duke Oil; this is in addition to its automatic inclusion in the lifting of crude oil, gas, etc., which made Duke Oil a money-spinning outfit that is accountable only to the NNPC.”
Seconding the motion, Senator Abubakar Yusuf called for an extension of the probe to the NNPC and all its subsidiaries.
President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, named Senator Aliyu Wammako as Chairman of the panel, while and Senators Tayo Alasoadura, Kabiru Marafa, Albert Bassey, Sam Anyanwu, Ahmed Ogembe, Chukwuka Utazi, Rose Okoh and Baba Kaka Garbai were listed as members.
Civil society groups, others react
While reacting to the development, a prominent lawyer and anti-graft organisations asked Buhari to act fast and investigate the allegations against Baru.
Those who commented on the allegations included the Executive Director, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Adetokunbo Mumuni; Mr. Yusuf Ali, SAN; and the Campaign for Democracy.
Ali and the CD asked the President to take “decisive action to address the indiscipline and high-handedness” portrayed in the rift between the NNPC boss and the minister.
Ali said, “This rift is symptomatic of a troubled system. It is an act of indiscipline. If two heads of agencies of government cannot resolve their internal problems, except they come public, it means both of them are short on delivering the services for which they were meant to.
“For me, the President will have to be decisive. He must take a firm decision because the buck stops on his table, and he cannot shy away.”
The CD President, Usman Abdul, said, “I think the Buhari administration should be proactive in tackling these salient issues bedevilling his government. It is unconstitutional and unacceptable for projects to be carried out by the NNPC without the board’s consent.
“This tells us of the high-handedness and impunity going on in this administration. It will not augur well if the President doesn’t address this, because it is a setback to the war against corruption.”
On his part, the Executive Director, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Debo Adeniran, said the President should not gloss over the allegations of insubordination, administrative lapses and corruption as contained in the minister’s letter.
He described the allegations as “a representation of a dysfunctional system where things no longer worked,” noting that it was a sign that the system was opaque.
The activist frowned on the alleged award of contracts and appointments without due process, stressing that these should be investigated to determine the culpability or otherwise of the NNPC boss.
SERAP commended the minister for presenting the issues to the President, noting that it was up to Buhari to “right the wrong.”
SERAP’s Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, said the reform being carried out by the government in the petroleum sector might not succeed if issues raised by Kachikwu were not thoroughly investigated.
He flayed the leakage of the letter to the media, but noted that it would assist the President to know what was going on in the NNPC.
Sagay asks Baru to react
The Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), said it was too early to pass judgment on the NNPC boss since he had yet to tell his own side of the story.
Sagay, however, said if the allegations levelled against Baru were true, then the NNPC boss had committed a crime, which was punishable under the Nigerian law.
The PACAC chairman said the Public Procurement Act stated that some huge contracts could not be approved unilaterally by heads of agencies but must be approved by a board or the Federal Executive Council.
The Co-convener of the Bring Back Our Girls group, Aisha Yesufu, alleged that Buhari had made deliberate efforts not to see the Kachikwu.
Yesufu said this in a series of tweets on Wednesday while reacting to Kachikwu’s letter to Buhari in which he complained that all attempts to see the President since August had been blocked.
Yesufu, however, stated that she was not surprised as the Buhari’s government was on auto-pilot.
The BBOG co-convener, who supported Buhari during the run up to the 2015 election, said she was not ashamed to say that the President was failing in his job.
Yesufu said, “Stop saying Kachikwu has no access to the President. The President doesn’t want to see Kachikwu, period! It is very annoying that President Buhari is being absolved as if he is a baby. The buck stops at his table. He takes 100 per cent responsibility.
“When we all are ready to face the truth, we would accept that we don’t have a President; what we have is a man playing at being President.
“Nigeria is on an autopilot running itself aground while President Buhari enjoys the perks of being called President and fawned upon. People are speaking as if it is someone else’s fault that Kachikwu hasn’t seen PMB. No! It is the fault of President Buhari himself.”
‘Row could affect Nigeria’s oil industry’
The nation’s oil and gas industry, which has been struggling to snap out of the doldrums caused by regulatory uncertainty, oil price slump and militant attacks, has been plunged into a fresh turmoil by the revelation of the friction between two top officials.
A petroleum engineer and energy expert, Mr. Bala Zakka, said the friction between Kachikwu and Baru would send a negative signal to the international oil companies, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries and to the global oil industry, and the nation’s oil industry would suffer.
“It will likely create confusion among operators in Nigeria because there are likely to be camps and factions; some will be for Kachikwu and some for Baru. That is why there is a need for a quick resolution of the issue so that the expected repositioning of the industry can continue,” he said.
He added that the reforms of the industry would likely be dealt a big blow because the two officials were saddled with the task of redirecting, refocusing and repositioning it for the greater benefit of the economy.
An energy expert and Head of Department, Energy Law, University of Lagos, Dr. Adedayo Ayoade, said the rift was further endangering the nation’s oil industry at a time when the international markets remained unstable and problematic.
“Why are we adding this to the long list of problems? If I were an investor, would I want to come into a country where they can’t agree on how to run their industry, where the biggest officials are in open conflict?” he asked.
According to Ayoade, the President has to get a quick grip on this, because the industry supplies most of government revenue.
The South-West Chairman, Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, Alhaji Tokunbo Korodo, who also described the friction as a bad development for the industry, said it was good that the Senate had intervened to probe the insubordination allegations.
The exemption from crude oil output cut that was granted Nigeria by OPEC, the forthcoming marginal fields bid round and the different parts of the Petroleum Industry Bill are among the many issues that are being threatened by the friction between Kachikwu and Baru.
The Technical Director at Template Design Limited, Mr. Bala Zakka, said, “Apart from the President, Kachikwu and Baru are the most senior Nigerians in the oil and gas sector. Such friction between the two of them will definitely have a negative effect on the public and private persona of the Nigerian oil and gas sector.
“Secondly, you must understand that if the NNPC were to be traded on the Nigerian Stock Exchange or international stock exchanges, because of this friction, the share price of the NNPC would have collapsed to the ground. Already, the friction between them has sent a negative signal to multinational and indigenous oil companies.”
The Director, Centre for Petroleum Energy Economics and Law, University of Ibadan, Prof. Adeola Adenikinju, stated that the minister’s allegations had revealed that there was a division between the senior government officers.
Some of the allegations against the NNPC boss constitute serious crimes and acts of economic sabotage against the Nigerian people and the economy, according to the Centre for Social Justice.
The Lead Director, CSJ, Eze Onyekpere, stated that officers of the previous federal administration who managed the oil sector were facing investigations and trials for offences related to the stealing of Nigeria’s resources.
He noted that key allegations as revealed by Kachikwu against Baru, which involved the award of contracts worth $25bn, were in breach of legal and procurement requirements, adding that the minister had stated that the NNPC board was never involved.
Curled from PUNCH
Copyright MMS Plus.
All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from KINGS COMMUNICATIONS LIMITED.